Posted: 09.04.2024 15:09:13

Legally doped up

Medical cannabis has been legalised in Ukraine. Why have they done this and what is it fraught with?

As announced on the website of Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, the law ‘On regulating the circulation of hemp genus plants (cannabis) for medical, industrial purposes, scientific and scientific-technical activities to create conditions for expanding patients’ access to the necessary treatment of cancer and post-traumatic stress disorders resulting from the war’ was signed by President Zelenskyy. This means that it will be quite legal to ‘roll a blunt’ in Ukraine in six months’ time.

A very protracted discussion

The legalisation of marijuana for medical purposes had been debated in Ukraine for more than 10 years. The first serious document on the subject was prepared back in 2016 by former Ukrainian Minister of Health Oleh Musiy. However, the draft law did not reach the consideration stage as Musiy withdrew it at the last moment. 
The current president of Ukraine promised during his election campaign to support the legalisation of medical cannabis. But what of his promise… In 2020, Zelenskyy shifted the responsibility for the solution to this issue to the people. And the people did not disappoint — the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes was approved by 65 percent of Ukrainians surveyed in the poll.
The bill had been put up for discussion several times since then but it repeatedly failed to get the necessary number of votes in its support in the Rada, despite the fact that Mr. Zelenskyy changed his mind again and began declaring that Ukraine needed to create the strongest mental and physical rehabilitation industry in Europe, which was allegedly impossible to do without legal cannabis in this matter. 
In the autumn of 2022, the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, which is an active lobbyist for the adoption of the law, presented the results of a study on the psychological state of the population. According to the government agency’s estimates, 57 percent of Ukrainians surveyed are at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you add to this number people with cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis and other diseases, who, according to Kiev, cannot do without a ‘joint’, it is likely that after the new law has entered into force, Ukraine will hide in the clouds of peculiar weed smell… 
The Ministry of Health of Ukraine is confident that cannabis legalisation will bring the country closer to the European healthcare system. As if, it is only the lack of opportunity to smoke weed that distinguishes Ukrainian medicine from European one...
Currently, about 30 countries worldwide, including the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Lesotho, and Rwanda, have given the green light to medical marijuana. As a rule, medical cannabis legalisation is the first step towards soft drug legalisation. That is because the weed lobby is like that — first it is argued to be absolutely necessary for those who are ill, and then —  for everyone else. After all, everyone can find a reason for using drugs, including a medical one — where there is a will, there is a way. 

Marijuana, heroin and others

Ukraine’s long path to legalising medical cannabis cannot but surprise, though. The country has long been not only producing but also actively consuming drugs. In 2019, according to the UN, 17 clandestine drug production laboratories were dismantled in Ukraine and 79 labs — in 2020, 67 of which produced amphetamines, as contrasted with five labs in 2019. This is the highest number of disassembled labs reported in any given country.  
This refers only to the number of liquidated laboratories, about which Ukraine bothered to report to the UN. One can only wonder how many of them actually were and still are in the country. 
According to the State Service of Ukraine on Medicines and Drugs Control, the volume of cannabis seized from illicit trafficking in 2020 exceeded the figures of 2019 by almost 143 percent. In 2019, a total of 8.7 tonnes of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances were seized in Ukraine. Of these — 2.2 tonnes of cannabis (25 percent of the total) and 443 grammes of hashish (cannabis resin). In 2020, 6.15 tonnes of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances were seized. Of these — 5.34 tonnes of cannabis (86 percent) and 3 kilogrammes of hashish. The cannabis growth for the year is 242 percent, and hashish — more than 600 percent. And these are only drug seizure statistics. 
The annual turnover of the Ukrainian cannabis market and its derivatives in 2021, according to the most conservative estimates, exceeded $50m. It should be noted that cannabis with derivatives is the cheapest and most affordable in the drug market, while the turnover of other types of drugs — cocaine, heroin, amphetamine, mephedrone, alpha-PVP, ecstasy, spice, LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms and others — collectively exceeded the cost of selling marijuana in Ukraine by four times. The total annual volume of the Ukrainian drug market in 2021 was about $250m. Once again, this is according to very modest estimates.
The widespread use of dope was also facilitated by the anti-drug legislation of Ukraine. After all, in order for a criminal case to go to court, it is required to catch the drug dealers red-handed and to prove that they wanted to make money on banned substances. It is clear that law enforcement officers did not always succeed in doing that.
It goes without saying that those who cover this dirty business have played a significant role in drug distribution in Ukraine. Among them are deputies of the Verkhovna Rada, SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] officers, policemen with ranks and shoulder straps, as well as ordinary police officers. 
As a result, the annual increase in the number of drug addicts in Ukraine reached about 10 percent, and this was the highest rate in the world. Along with that, about a thousand Ukrainians die from an overdose every year, and another 120,000 die from diseases associated with the use of narcotic drugs and substances. In addition, according to experts, 260,000 HIV-infected people lived in Ukraine in 2021.

On the way to legalisation

The beginning of the special military operation (SMO) in February 2022 shook up and reformatted the Ukrainian drug market. The existing transit routes of illicit heroin trafficking from Afghanistan through the Balkans and the Caucasus to Europe, and cocaine from Latin America via the Black Sea were disrupted. Yet, the production and turnover of synthetic drugs in the country skyrocketed.
The manufacture of synthetic drugs is a simple, fast and relatively inexpensive process. It uses precursors that are quite easy to buy in Ukraine and abroad, as well as basic necessary laboratory equipment.
Therefore, after the beginning of the SMO, it turned out to be much easier to produce ‘synthetics’ than to grow cannabis plants, creating special conditions for them and spending time. The number of synthetic drug consumers is also increasing. Reportedly, half of the military personnel in the Ukrainian army use drugs on a regular basis. Thus, smoking marijuana is not perceived as drug abuse any more. 
It is worth noting that in Europe, almost half of those who are undergoing drug addiction treatment are on... cannabis. Yet, opioids are still in the lead. In Ukraine, by the way, even people with a proven diagnosis of drug addiction are subject to conscription.
The legalisation of medical cannabis against the backdrop of the growing mayhem in Ukraine looks like an attempt by the state to snatch its piece from the billion-dollar turnover of the drug market — after all, human life has ceased to be appreciated there. Those who care solely about money are not bothered in the least whether a person dies in another meaningless military attack or from a synthetic drug overdose. The main thing is to earn money from either activity. Thus, the state might as well benefit from this. And Ukraine has already taken the first step in this direction.
On April 1st, Germany became the biggest EU country to legalise recreational cannabis, despite fierce objections from opposition politicians and medical associations. Under the first step in the much-debated new law, adults over 18 are now allowed to carry 25 grammes of dried cannabis and cultivate up to three marijuana plants at home. The changes leave Germany with some of the most liberal cannabis laws in Europe, alongside Malta and Luxembourg, which legalised recreational use in 2021 and 2023, respectively.
By Alena Krasovskaya